Sunday, 11 November 2018

Diversity in Knitting and Beyond

Diversity in Knitting and Beyond

Recently, the topic of diversity in knitting* has become more prominent and it's been on my mind for a while now.  It is such a complex topic that I didn't quite know how to tackle it in a blog post and this one may well sound like it's all over the place. However, it is an important topic and I hope that it will make you think.

White as default

Most knitters and designers we encounter in our craft tend to be white and from similar cultural backgrounds (i.e. Western). To my surprise, I never really paid attention to that - and what surprised me more, I didn't realise that I am actually not part of that dominant group. 

I am multicultural, multiracial and multilingual. I have lived in three countries, two of which  are predominantly white. I spent part of my childhood in Bangladesh and know just how different the cultures I have experienced are. And still, I somehow never felt I was any different from other white people. I suspect that's because I have been surrounded by whiteness most of my life and that I haven't struggled with my own multicultural heritage in a way that many do.

Considering the amount of racism I experienced in Germany in the 1990s, that's surprising even to me in retrospect. It was the hardest, most dangerous time of my life because I looked foreign in my own country of birth. I did not believe I would get older than 14 at the time, given the violence at the time. (The political atmosphere in the UK and US currently remind me very much of that time and Germany is not far behind at the moment.) And yet, unlike many who are made to feel different, I always felt very secure in myself, so the struggle was never really one coming from within me. Instead, I knew that it was a problem only for other people, something they tried to force on me from outside. This caused all kinds of issues at the time, but it never made me think less of myself, feel unworthy or out of place. Unlike many, I did not feel like I was not at home where I was, though what exactly constitutes home for me is hard to pinpoint to this day.

A sense of home

For me, there was never a doubt about who or what I am. It is more a question of finding home in a physical sense that is difficult. Geography. I moved so much between countries and cultures that home is hard. For me home is temporary and ever changing. It is where I happen to be at the time. Home is not one place or even a person or group of people. Instead, home is something intangible, maybe a state of being that, like everything, is fluid and ever changing. Maybe home is simply within me.

Brexit is a good example of how your sense of home can be suddenly denied, altered or removed by external forces you cannot influence. Many EU nationals in the UK (and, similarly, UK nationals in the EU) are now experiencing this loss for the first time due to the threat that Brexit poses to their lives in the countries they've decided to call home.^ It's because of the vulnerability of home that all we have is ourselves, so we need to be comfortable with who we are.

Creating your own space

Nearly a decade ago I worked on a book about multicultural identity in Maori novels (you can hear a little bit about it in the Fiber Muse podcast), which taught me a lot about the struggle of people who feel like they don't fully belong anywhere. In the book, I write that people like us create our own space, a third space, that draws on everything we are. This way, we find ourselves and create something new, drawing on the different strands that make us who we are. We create a unique blend that is us, and just us.

So what does that mean for us multicultural knitters? Do we incorporate elements of our heritage in our knitting? Do we use traditional designs, stitch patters or techniques in our work? Are we aware of them at all? Do we demand our place within dominant knitting culture? Or do we focus on simply making others aware that we are here, that we exist, that the knitters, just like knitting itself, is diverse, colourful and challenging if you allow it to be?

This is for each one of us to decide and we may never find a definitive answer. And we don't have to. Personally, all I know is this:

The one stable thing in my life is my sense of self. I have always known who I am, a being in flux, but confident and trusting in myself.

And that sounds pretty good to me.

Share your thoughts with me on Twitter @KnittyNadia.
*Follow #diversknitty on Instagram and other social media to find knitters from various cultural backgrounds.
^If you want to help people affected by this, please join me in becoming an EU Citizens' Champion